Is irrigation still a man’s world?

An account on women’s participation in PIM (Participatory Irrigation Management)

Representational Image. Courtesy: SPS Community Media

Even though women make up a significant proportion of the farmers in India, mainstreaming gender concerns in the domain of irrigation in agriculture seems to be a vision of a distant future. Involving women in irrigation projects is popularly equated with increasing their numbers in the Water User Associations (WUAs), and as many studies point out, their participation has largely remained tokenistic. Women’s participation and representation have continued to remain skewed in irrigation management and various other domains of natural resource management. Yet one can see that women’s relationship with water runs deep as in a majority of households the collection of drinking water is still considered a woman’s duty. To understand the gender realities in irrigation, and make sense of women’s participation on ground, I undertook my fieldwork, in one of the states implementing the Participatory Irrigation Management Act- Madhya Pradesh.

A brief history of PIM

The tragedy of irrigation in India is that trillions of litres of water stored in our large dams have not reached the farmers for whom they are meant. Participatory Irrigation Management (PIM) attempts to address this challenge of last mile connectivity in irrigation. In this approach, farmers get together to manage the water resources in their part of the command area in an equitable and sustainable manner. This concept gained currency with its inclusion in the National Water Policy in 1987. Some civil society organizations have been at the forefront of work relating to PIM and have successfully pioneered many action research programmes around the formation of WUAs. The first state to implement the PIM Act was Andhra Pradesh, followed by Madhya Pradesh. Both these acts recognize women as ‘landowners’ thereby legitimate ‘water users’ in the Water User Association, akin to men. But is it a visible reality?